Running Form Analysis of Joseph Pilates

I found this little gem of archival film on YouTube. I have no idea what language the titles are in or what they say (if you do, please let us know in the comments!) but it gives us the fabulous opportunity to watch Joseph Pilates run for a few moments. You’ll find the running from 0:09-0:16.

The video is murky and we can’t see as much as we’d like. But this is what I was able to gather from many viewings:

  • He is running basically upright, with his torso parallel to the line of gravity, the same as in walking
  • He’s dropping his head forward
  • He’s bringing his feet to midline, somewhat turned out so that his knees point outwards and it’s likely his feet do too
  • He’s swinging his arms low and almost perfectly in the sagittal plane, meaning front-to-back without crossing his torso at all
  • His head makes almost no movement side-to-side, moving straight forward
  • He’s keeping his torso fairly square, his pelvis and upper body moving minimally. He is turning his upper body a bit, perhaps 5-10 degrees, judged from the movement of the neck of his shirt.

Pilates’s background was as a circus performer and gymnast, and that is represented in how he runs. Take a look at this video of tightrope walker Nik Wallenda completing his recent crossing of the Grand Canyon. At 22:49 you’ll see him break into a brief run at the end of his crossing – the similarity to Pilates’s run in the clip above is striking. The feet come exactly to midline – they have to! His head remains centered over the tightrope. His pelvis moves a little as does his thorax but his shoulders don’t turn – they can’t, he’s holding a very long pole. The critical element that allows a person to run on a tightrope is preventing any shift of their center of gravity to either side of the tightrope, otherwise they take a tumble.

(The video is unfortunately no longer available on YouTube.)

A person who needs to do this – or run and move on a balance beam, as in this clip of Shannon Miller (a gymnast chosen at random on YouTube) – develops a superlative ability to keep their torso stable. It can’t be immobile or they can’t move, but the center of gravity always stays centered. It’s a skilled and beautiful activity.

But is it appropriate on terra firma, with a nice wide road, track, trail, or field in front of you? Is it appropriate if your goal is simply to run, either enjoyably or far or fast or all three? I’ll tackle that question in my next post; meanwhile try out this kind of running for yourself and see if you can figure it out. Share your observations in the comments below.

9 thoughts on “Running Form Analysis of Joseph Pilates”

  1. what a great and fun topic. Amazing that you found that video clip and integrated Pilates background into the discussion. He certainly had an odd run, but it fit the rest of his movement and his background. Terrific job on this post.

  2. Text is in Hebrew.
    First slide: Tamar Pilates studio
    Director Tamar Tsachi
    Second slide: Joseph Pilates aged 52.
    Christmas in the Catskill Mountains
    New York 1932
    Ends with the studio contact information.
    Most interesting run! Great find! Thanks.

  3. Great clip of Pilates.Never saw that one ,a rare find.Yes people move or run according to the context they are in.If you watch Bruce Lee run.On toes.arms sawing by sides very fast.He could close the gap within 10yards faster than any fighter out there to this day.All the best.Charles.

  4. Great analysis. It would be great if you could do a similar analysis of Bruce Lee. But Bruce Lee did not claim to improve running, so it might not be relevant to the blog:)

  5. Hi Jae
    the Language in the titles is Hebrew although I don’t know it and cannot translate.
    Interesting views of a fixed torso. Is there material that shows a comparison between running with a fixed torso and with a flexible one for us to really see the extent of the difference? What do you think are the main consequences of keeping the torso too tight, injury-wise?
    All the best


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